One of six top-class races on Saturday’s British Champions Day racecard at Ascot, the Group One Champions Sprint Stakes over six furlongs is shaping up to be one of the greatest renewals of the race since it was first ran back in 1946 when it was known as the Diadem Stakes.
The 2.00pm contest carries a sizeable winners’ purse in excess of £300,000 and the classy contest has been won by some top sprinters throughout the year, including Muhaarar, Slade Power and Acclamation in recent years.
This year’s renewal however could see a titanic clash between several top-rated sprinters, including Mecca’s Angel, Limato and Quiet Reflection amongst others in a potential top-class field of runners.
Michael Dods’ Mecca’s Angel has shown her class in landing a second Nunthorpe Stakes at York back in August, beating Limato, having also beaten Brando at the Curragh the time before when winnng the Sapphire Stakes.
The Dark Angel filly ran well in defeat last time out behind Marsha when just failing to hold off that rival and Washington DC in the Prix de l’Abbaye where she was beaten just over three-parts of a length behind Sir Mark Prescott’s smart sprinter.
Although she proved in her second Nunthorpe win that she can perform on quick ground, she is arguably better when there is some cut in the ground, which she is unlikely to get on Saturday. Add in her tackling six furlongs for only the third time in her career, and there is reason to take on the grey.
She’s been beaten on both attempts beyond five furlongs, while her sole run at Ascot to date in the King’s Stand Stakes saw her beat only one home. She also had too much speed for Limato over five furlongs of the Nunthorpe; she is far from certain to confirm that form with Henry Candy’s star over this trip.
Dual-Nunthorpe heroine Mecca's Angel has to prove stamina over an additional furlong.
Limato meanwhile bounced back from that defeat at York to readily win the Prix de la Foret from Karar, scoring easily by three lengths.
That was over seven furlongs, and the Tagula gelding would be dropping back to six furlongs for this hugely competitive contest. The lesser distance shouldn’t inconvenience though, given the way he powered clear of a good field to land the July Cup at Newmarket in July where the likes of Quiet Reflection and Washington DC were behind.
He looks sure to go well, but Henry Candy’s charge could be one that needs some time between outings, and coming into this race just two weeks after his last run it is possible he may just have had the edge taken off him in that Chantilly success.
Candy could also be represented by Twilight Son who bounced back to form to beat Gold Fun over this course and distance to land the Diamond Jubilee Stakes during Royal Ascot.
Runner-up in this race twelve months ago behind the top-class Muhaarar, the Kyllachy colt was never a factor behind Limato in the July Cup, finishing well down the field. However, faster ground may have been to blame for that run, as – like Mecca’s Angel - he has shown his best form with some cut in the ground.
Conditions may be slightly more in his favour on Saturday, but he looks to have a bit to find with the principals in this competitive contest.
Limato could find this coming too soon after his Chantilly exertions.
Quiet Reflecton bounced back from his defeat behind Limato in the July Cup to score at Haydock in the Sprint Cup, beating The Tin Man by the better part of two lengths. Suedois, who finished third in that race also ran well in defeat behind Limato at Chantilly, so that form looks strong and Karl Burke’s charge should be competitive again.
The progressive sprinter showed her class when beating Donjuan Triumphant at Haydock back in May to take the Sandy Lane Stakes, before adding to her win tally with a first Group One success in the Commonwealth Cup where she won cosily over Kachy, where both Washington DC and Donjuan Triumphant were behind.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see her in the shake-up for this big prize, and in receipt of weight all round she could well prove a tough nut to crack.
The Tin Man can also give a good account, although James Fanshawe’s charge has work on to reverse Haydock form with Karl Burke’s charge.
Fourth in this race twelve months ago behind Muhaarar, the Equiano gelding was a ready winner of a Listed race at Windsor on his return, but ran poorly next time behind Twilight Son here in June. Having bounced back to land the Hackwood Stake at Newbury, he again came up short at this level, and while he is entitled to run well again others look to have stronger claims.
SHALAA though could make them all work, and John Gosden’s Invincible Spirit colt returned from a lengthy absence over course and distance at the beginning of the month to post a comfortable success over Mehronissa to land the Bengough Stakes.
A winner of five of his six starts last term, the champion juvenile was hugely progressive in winning back-to-back Group Two contests at Newmarket at Goodwood, and he took the step up to Group One company in his stride when beating Gutaifan at Deauville despite the softer ground.
Value for more than the official winning margin when beating Buratino to land the Middle Park Stakes, that field also included Gimcrack winner Ajaya who had beaten subsequent Group One winner Ribchester in that race.
While Buratino’s form has largely plateaued from his juvenile season, the form of that success is good, and John Gosden’s charge showed no ill-effects from his time on the sidelines when readily holding Mehronissa on his return to action.
Sure to come on for the run, and back on a quicker surface, more can be expected from the Invincible Spirit colt assuming this doesn’t come too soon; but, with the yard continuing in good form, the Al Shaqab-owned colt looks sure to make a bold bid for further Group One success, and still open to improvement he can take this prize.
Shalaa can build on his return to action to go close in this classy contest.
Aidan O’Brien has been mopping up big prices of late, and his Washington DC can’t be underestimated despite not having won since scoring in Listed company at Navan back in May.
The Zoffany colt has ran several hugely creditable efforts behind several of these, not being beaten far in three of his last four behind Take Cover, Ardhoomey and Marsha respectively; he can go well again, but the suspicion is he’ll find one or two too strong for him again.
Brando is a last-time winner, scoring in the Ayr Gold Cup over Growl last month; however, both have work to do at this higher level. Kevin Ryan’s Pivotal gelding finished runner-up to Mecca’s Angel at the Curragh three starts ago, but found the same rival too stong again when finishing ninth in the Nunthorpe at York, and he has to step up considerably on his Ayr success.
Growl meanwhile finished behind the progressive Librisa Breeze at Ascot in the Challenge Cup, and he may be suited by a return to six furlongs. The form of Richard Fahey’s charge falls below the standard required to win a race as competitive as this though; while Don’t Touch who also hails from the Fahey camp has seen his progress stall since beating Danzeno at Salisbury in June.
The Dutch Art colt finished behind Limato in the July Cup, and has two lengths to find with Shalaa from their Ascot run last time. The return to better ground will help, but he looks vulnerable on these terms.
Progressive Librisa Breeze could go well in Saturday's sprint showpiece.
Mr Lupton, potentially a third runner in the race for Richard Fahey, hasn’t gone on from his success at York back in June, and he has had his limitations exposed in Group company since. He is hard to fancy at this level.
Librisa Breeze is however worthy of a crack at this higher level, having beaten Squats over seven furlongs here in July, and Dean Ivory’s charge ran well behind Nemoralia at York in the City Of York Stakes, where he was beaten three lengths despite the steady pace seemingly against the Mount Nelson gelding.
A winner back here in October, he has to prove as good over six furlongs; but he has won both starts here and he could still have some further improvement. His win last time at Ascot saw him beat Intisaab into fourth – a winner since – but over this shorter trip he could find things happening too quickly for him.
He’ll be appreciative of a strong pace given he has often travelled strongly in his races and he has a good turn of foot; he could well be a player at a big price despite having a bit to find with a few of these.
Andre Fabre’s Jimmy Two Times has work to do with a few of these, while fellow French raider Signs Of Blessing may prefer softer ground that the conditions he’ll get here. However, both Jack Dexter and Mobsta look out of their depth at this level, and both are likely to struggle in this company.
This could be one of the races of the season, but SHALAA is taken to continue on his rapid upward ascent despite the presence of the likes of Mecca’s Angel and Limato in opposition.
John Gosden’s charge was a hugely progressive juvenile, working his way up to dual-Group One successes, which include a win in the Middle Park Stakes; and the Invincible Spirit colt made an encouraging comeback to readily hold off Mehronissa over this course and distance in the Group Three Bengough Stakes earlier in the month.
Reportedly not fully fit when turned out last time, he should be spot on now; and with conditions underfoot no issue, he can expected to build on that return. While this represents his toughest test to date, he looked something out of the ordinary last term when racking up a five-win sequence, and he could be even better this time around.
Mecca’s Angel has to prove stamina for this additional furlong, while Limato may need more time between races; and so Librisa Breeze could be one to side with for place money given he is 2-3 at this venue and is likely to get a good pace to aim at.
The progressive Mount Nelson gelding may ideally prefer further than this; but he is a strong-travelling sort who possesses a good turn of foot as shown when beating Firmament and others here to land the Challenge Cup at the beginning of October.
While he needs to step up on the balance of his form to date, he may not have reached the ceiling of his improvement just yet, and he can give a good account of himself.
2016 BRITISH CHAMPION SPRINT STAKES SELECTION – SHALAA